Farmers are sometimes unfairly attacked for not doing enough to help the environment but many of them are good stewards of the land. They’ve shown it by signing up for the Conservation Reserve Program.

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith are encouraging Minnesota producers and landowners to enroll in CRP by the Feb. 12 deadline. The CRP, administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, is one of the largest private-lands conservation programs in the U.S.

Participants receive an annual payment in exchange for removing environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and planting species that will improve its condition. Farmers plant long-term, resource-conserving vegetation such as grasses or trees, known as “covers,” to control soil erosion, improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat. With so many lakes and streams in Douglas County, the program takes on added importance.

The program was created back in 1985 and has been protecting land, water and wildlife ever since. Enrollment, however, has been declining. A 2020 report from the USDA’s Economic Research Service showed that since 2008, nearly 13 million acres have left the program, much of it going back into production.

This latest sign-up opportunity could help reverse that trend.

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“The Conservation Reserve Program is key to supporting Minnesota producers and landowners who help ensure the health of our state’s water, soil, and wildlife,” said Klobuchar in a news release last week. “This is why I worked to increase the acreage in the program to 27 million acres in the 2018 Farm Bill. I am proud to continue supporting this important program to protect our state’s private lands.”

Smith, too, pointed out the benefits of the program and encouraged interested Minnesotans to contact their local USDA offices during the sign-up period.

There are strict rules and guidelines in place to ensure the program is not being used for the wrong purposes.

According to the Douglas County Soil and Water Conservation District, land that is not currently enrolled in CRP may be offered for enrollment during this CRP general enrollment period. In addition, CRP producers whose CRP contracts are expiring on Sept. 30, 2021, including acres expiring from certain State Acres for Wildlife Enhancement practices and the Highly Erodible Lands Initiative contracts, may submit offers.

To submit CRP offers, producers must contact their local FSA office. FSA will accept offers only during the enrollment period. The Douglas County FSA office in Alexandria can be reached at 320-763-3191.

To be eligible for CRP enrollment, a producer must have owned or operated the land for at least 12 months prior to the end of this CRP enrollment period, unless:

  • The new owner acquired the land due to the previous owner’s death.

  • The ownership change occurred due to foreclosure where the owner exercised a timely right of redemption in accordance with state law.

  • Or the circumstance of the acquisition presents adequate assurance to FSA that the new owner did not acquire the land for the purpose of placing it in CRP.

Land must be cropland (including field margins) that is planted, or considered planted, to an agricultural commodity four of the six crop years from 2012 to 2017, and be physically and legally capable of being planted. Alfalfa or other multiyear grasses and legumes grown in a rotation not to exceed 12 years may also be eligible.

To enroll in CRP, contact your local FSA county office or visit fsa.usda.gov/crp. To locate your local FSA office, visit https://www.farmers.gov/service-center-locator.